Syed Siddiq Hassan was born on 14th October 1832 in Bareilly. He was from a distinguished family of theologians who, as Syeds, traced their ancestry back to the Prophet. Descendants of Hazrat Ali, Siddiq Hassan’s Shiite ancestors first settled in Bokhara and then migrated to Multan. There they became guardians of mosques and holy places until the family moved again, nearer to the center of power in the United Provinces, where they spread themselves in the well-known bastions of Shiite culture, Bareilly and Kannauj. Siddiq Hassan’s grandfather was an acclaimed scholar and theologian. He was employed in a high post in Hyderabad and was comfortably off, owning lands and property. The family prided itself on its erudition and scholarship, engaging itself in the doctrinal debate between various Muslim schools of thought.
Siddiq Hassan’s father, Syed Awlad Hassan, was also steeped in Islamic scholarship and became an ardent disciple of the Muslim reformers, Syed Waliullah and Syed Ahmad Shahid. These scholars belonged to the school of thought that believed in the puritan values of Islam, drawn directly from the Quran and Sunnah. They opposed the sanctification of Pirs and the Sufic rituals that had spread across the Sub-continent. They also believed that the Door of Ijtehad (signifying a consensus between the four Sunni schools of theology and legal interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah, the Hannafi, Hambali, Maiki and Shafi – that no further interpretation was warranted) should not be regarded as closed and were consequently ranged against the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence of which the Hanafi was predominant in south Asia. This doctorine was called Wahabism, named after the Arab evangelist Abdul Wahab.
Syed Awlad Hassan announced publicly that he had converted from Shiaism to become a Sunni. This action led to ostracization from his family and from the Shiite fold. He also renounced subsequently all interest in material benefits, notably the land and property that his family owned. Thus, Syed Awlad Hassan’s missionary evangelism led his family into self-imposed penury. Syed Awlad Hassan died in 1937 when Siddiq was only five years old. His mother brought up Siddiq in hard times – often saved by friends and associates of his late father who ensured that Siddiq received a proper education in Arabic, Persian, Quranic studies and Hadith. Siddiq was a worthy student. As soon as he was 17 years old, he began looking for work and in 1854 landed in Bhopal, which was a haven for Muslim scholars and theologians. Siddiq arrived in Bhopal selling perfume, but soon found a job as a schoolteacher, augmenting his meager income by preaching at moques where he gave vent to the Wahhabi views held by his father, opposing the Hanafi school of jurisprudence and propagating a return to Islam’s pristine values. Eventually, in 1857, he fell foul of a leading Hanafi Mualvi in Bhopal, Abbas Chiryakoti, who had him shunted out of the state. Siddiq moved on to neighbouring state of Tonk, but when the mutiny swept across India, returned to Kannauj to protect his family. During these difficult days, Siddiq suffered from extreme poverty and anguish. He had only one change of clothes and his family spent days without a proper meal.
Eventually, Prime Minister Maulvi Jamaluddin, who had taken a liking to the scholarly intelligent Siddiq, persuaded Sikander to allow Siddiq’s return to Bhopal. Sikander commissioned Siddiq to write a history of Bhopal, paying him a substantial salary. He was soon employed by Maulvi Jamalluddin as a clerk in his office. In 1860, Siddiq married Maulvi Jamalluddin’s 39-year-old widowed daughter Zakia at the age of 28. By the mid-1860s Siddiq started climbing the administrative ladder, supported by his father-in-law. By 1865, Siddiq at the age of 33, was given the responsibility of acting as the private tutor to the vivacious, feisty 27 year old heir apparent Shahjehan. It was not long before rumours started circulating that Siddiq and Shajehan were emotionally entangled, being closeted alone for hours, ostensibly studying Arabic, Persian and Hadith! After Shahjehan became Begum, she promoted Siddiq to be her Chief Secretary. The private meetings grew longer as a result, and the scandal more intense. Shahjehan started addressing Siddiq as Syed Siddiq Hassan “Khan”, indicating an imaginary pathan lineage.
Siddiq Hassan soon ousted his father-in-law, Maulvi Jamalluddin, from corridors of power, using the emotional and intellectual grip that he had over the besotted Shahajehan. He was promoted to madar-ul-maham (Chief Minister), and made a word get through to Major Edward Thompson, Political Agent of Bhopal, that Shahjehan was pregnant with his child. He managed to convince Thompson that honor could be saved through immediate marriage. On 8th May 1871, a wedding ceremony took place, while the British made it clear that Siddiq Hassan will play a non-executive role. On Shahjehan’s insistence, the British accorded Siddiq Hassan with the title of Nawab Wala-Jah on 15th October 1872. There was wide spread resentment and dislike among the local Bhopalis over this alignment. Incidentally no child was born during the first year of the marriage.
As said earlier, Siddiq soon took over all control from Shahjehan, asking her to go back into Pardah. However the British stated seeing Siddiq as a man who sought power through the propagation of anti-British Wahabi extremism that called for jehad against the ruling infidels. At the time, an undercurrent of Islamic revivalism opposed British domination of the Middle East and Asia had emerged in Sudan under the leadership of the Mahdi and in Turkey under the Turkish sultanate. The British were therefore particularly sensitive towards Islamic nationalism rearing its head in India.
On the other hand modern historians see Siddiq Hassan in heroic proportions. He is regarded as one of the earliest anti-colonial stalwarts who used the power of the pen to assert Muslim nationalism. These historians consider Siddiq Hassan’s writings neither extremist nor seditious. They accuse the British of deliberately misinterpreting Siddiq’s works in order to strike down any political or religious movement that smacked of a nationalist revival. These historians regard Siddiq’s political views as a courageous expression of anti-colonial sentiment, representing the first stirring of Islamic nationhood. The humiliation and persecution he suffered at the hands of the British is seen as a badge of honor.
Update: This character sketch of Nawab Siddiq Hassan Khan is from a book titled “Begums Of Bhopal” authored by Shaharyar M Khan, grandson of Nawab Hamidullah Khan. From the comments, it is apparent that some take offense to this post. Anybody interested is invited to write a post on this for the BLOG, which will be published on the BLOG and credit will be given to the author.